Interview: Buy a Tear Down, Build a Dream Home

Recent posts on Sweet Digs Seattle:

After a few fruitless months (or years!) of househunting, I always toy with the idea of buying a tear-down and building exactly what I want. To the average person this can seem like a daunting endeavor. Where you do you begin? How long will it take? How much of my life will get sucked into the madness of a construction project? My friend Rick is currently in the midst of building his dream home and has answer to some of these questions and more.

Marie: How did it all begin? How did you decide to buy a tear-down?

Rick: I had been looking at condos and houses in neighborhoods near Seattle specifically Ravenna, Bryant, Green Lake, Ballard, etc and found this one in the U District. It was listed for $385,000 and I bid $410,000. There were multiple offers and a competative market at the time. The house was 800 square feet total and only about 400 square feet on the main floor. The lot is 40 feet by 100 feet and there was a potential for nice veiws.

Marie: Was access by heavy equipment a consideration in your purchase decision?

Rick: No, cost of demolition and excavation is the main concern. I rejected a Queen Anne location due to excavation cost to shore up foundation and retaining walls.


Marie:  Once you bought the place what next?

Rick: There was a new house in the area that I liked, it was 2900 square feet, three stories, and selling for $850,000. I spoke to an architect and got the plans and had them altered to increase head height and enlarge porches. Permits were filed with King County (methane abatement, drainage, gas cut in, electrical, side walk cut in, foundation, etc) which took about five months and a few thousand dollars. The city charges you $100 every time they send someone out to read a meter plus $45 administration cost! Cost of the foundation almost double from original estimate because they required additional reinforcement.

Marie: What advice and tips/tricks do you have for anyone considering doing this?

Rick: Much of this is just good project management skills:

  • Always get multiple bids from contractors and negotiate, negotiate, negotiate!
  • Make sure contractors and subcontractors are licensed
  • Educate yourself as much as possible about the project and ask lots of questions
  • Make sure the contractors don’t waste materials, over-communicate to ensure they do it right the first time
  • Reiterate concerns and wants
  • Document everything in email, write up notes from onsite conversations and confirm via email regarding what was agreed
  • Check-in frequently (daily) to ensure work is progressing as expected
  • Always helps to be nice to the workers – end of work day refreshments are always appreciated
  • Stick to your budget – rule of thumb is to add 50% to estimated cost of entire project
  • You don’t have to pay everything all at once and never pay in full before the job is done
  • Don’t give up!

For the play-by-play, see Rick’s house project blog.